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LFMA Annual Conference 2022: The Future of Green Infrastucture Projects and the Impacts of RR 2.0 in Louisiana

May 5, 2022
Susanna Pho, CFM

This year’s Louisiana Floodplain Management Association Annual Conference took us to the state’s capital: Baton Rouge! The conference brought together floodplain, water, and mitigation experts to discuss how state and local governments are preparing with the rollout of Risk Rating 2.0, learn about nature-based solution projects, and plan for the future of flood risk communication.

Risk Rating 2.0 Affordability in New Orleans

Austin Feldbaum, the Hazard Mitigation Administrator of the City of New Orleans, made a presentation addressing how social vulnerability  is reflected in data from the National Flood Insurance Program. Mr. Feldbaum’s presentation, titled Risk Rating 2.0 Affordability: Implications for Hazard Mitigation, covered topics including FEMA’s 2018 Affordability Framework, how mitigation assistance prioritizes repetitive loss properties, and the overall impact of Risk Rating 2.0 on communities that face major discrepancies already based on race and class. FEMA’s Affordability Framework acknowledges the communities that will carry the heaviest burden—with an emphasis on historically underserved communities, which make up a large percentage of New Orleans  population. According to Austin’s presentation, it was found that the fixed income and renter populations in New Orleans bore a heavy cost burden in paying for flood insurance. His research showed that 9-10% of the New Orleans population was cost-burdened by flood insurance, specifically— with the average household paying over 4% of their income for flood insurance. Austin pointed out that there is an apparent correlation between flood risk data and social vulnerability. "Some of the mapmaking that we've been doing is looking at the historical geography of poverty and flood risk and how those things overlap. Austin also explored how using repetitive loss property data to inform the distribution of adaptation and mitigation funding might privilege individuals who have access to resources like flood insurance already. Lower income households are generally less likely to have flood insurance coverage and lower income homeowners might own their houses outright, choosing not to carry flood insurance. For those individuals, funding to mitigate might be less accessible. Austin stated that a priority in remedying many of these issues begins with understanding “how to create equity through actions as government officials”. He also emphasized the importance of providing “local floodplain administrators with more information and inclusion in [policy] changes made in order to effectively communicate to their communities to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.”

Local Park Preservation and Flood Mitigation Projects

There were many great presentations on the ongoing efforts to develop green infrastructure and flood mitigation projects throughout the state. Garland Pennison of HDR Consulting spoke about plans to remodel Louisiana bayous and explore technology to monitor watersheds in LWI Region 5. And we heard from Donald Sagrera and Dr. Whitney Broussard who spoke about water quality improvement “through managed freshwater diversion in the Teche-Vermillion Basin”.

Dr. Emad Habib of UL Lafayette shared his research on closing the gap of flood risk within the communities surrounding the Vermillion Watershed. Some of the many nature-based and conventional solutions Dr. Habib discussed included utilizing swamps and implementing connected channels, floodplain restoration, and community awareness to greatly reduce flooding from the Vermillion River.

The City of New Orleans is finalizing the plans for a $141 million dollar project to deploy green infrastructure in the Dillard Wetlands. The Gentilly Resilience District Project aims to reduce future flood damage by implementing mitigation infrastructure to maintain long-term achievement in hazard mitigation efforts. Joel Tillery of Freese & Nichols explained that “frequent flooding and repetitive loss throughout Gentilly necessitate improvements to infrastructure and a new approach to managing stormwater.” Projects in the Gentilly District include: The Mirabeau Water Garden, which will store up to 10 million gallons of stormwater and be utilized as a recreation space, St. Anthony Green Streets, and the Community Adaptation Program for Gentilly homeowners. Through the mentioned sub-projects, the larger project’s goals to improve water quality, restore existing forest and wetland, and honor a community-based design with input from residents within the District will generate neighborhood revitalization . As we continue to learn about large-scale hazard mitigation projects, it is so important to see how local governments are taking action and calling on their community to achieve awareness and preparedness.

Seamus Riley and Jefferson Parish’s Push for Green Infrastructure

Seamus Riley of Jefferson Parish co-presented with Susanna Pho. The talk showcased some of the learnings we’ve had in the launch of our Elevation Certificate Error Detection feature and how Seamus uses Forerunner to amplify his work in Jefferson Parish. The Parish has just under 80,000 NFIP policies—which translates to more than 10 million dollars in flood insurance savings through the National Flood Insurance Programs Community Ratings System. The Parish sits at or below sea level in most places, many of Jefferson’s residents are aware of their flood risk and engaged in conversations around mitigation. “In Jefferson Parish, large rain events can lead to flooding as the Parish is like a bowl and stormwater ponding builds up quickly.” Mr. Riley explained that a lot of the work Jefferson is doing is aimed at developing new green infrastructure, maximizing grant funding for large marsh restoration and shoreline creation projects, and prioritizing clear communication with residents. With more frequent and stronger storms, flood risk mitigation and communication have only become more critical. Seamus and his team are working to encourage communication and making sure Jefferson residents have every tool available. “Elevation Certificates (EC) contain important and useful information. We want to make sure our residents have access to our EC database so they can utilize that information to protect their property and better prepare for flooding events.” He went on to explain that Jefferson Parish will continue to be very reactive with the increase in flooding events and have shifted towards an equally important proactive approach to “push forward with robust mitigation projects and implement large-scale projects that have not been tackled before.” Finally, Seamus closed his presentation by discussing how Forerunner has continued to elevate their workflow by consolidating their floodplain data into one place. Our work with Jefferson Parish has previously and continues to inform how we shape our software–we appreciate the time Seamus takes to work with and speak to our team members about how we can continue to meet our user’s needs.

All of the presenters did an incredible job updating and informing attendees about the future of Louisiana’s floodplain management work and our team was excited to be part of many great conversations. Having more opportunities to speak to our users in person and engage with new communities allows us to inform our work at Forerunner. We are looking forward to returning next year for more conversations and crawfish!

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